When faced with adversity in a challenging situation, we often hear things like “let it go; it is what it is; just accept it”.
Of course, it’s usually easier said than done to accept life for what it is and move forward. Instead, when we are presented with something that is stressful, troubling, and out of our control, it is human nature to add more suffering – whether that be expressed in the form of resentment, self-deprivation, or disappointment.
How do we break out of this negative thought pattern?
This article explores the idea of radical acceptance, if it’s real, and if it can teach us to be more self-accepting, flexible, and stress-resilient in life.
Radical Acceptance refers to the ability to accept situations that are outside of our control without judgment, anger, or frustration. In turn, when we stop fighting reality, we stop the cycle of thoughts and behaviours that cause us to suffer more as a result.
For example, say you’ve worked hard and applied for a promotion at your job. Unfortunately, your employer has chosen someone else for this opportunity. Although you may experience resentment towards your employer or envy towards your colleague, you have two options to consider at this time:
Option 1: Berate yourself with questions, “Am I not good enough?”, “If only I had answered one question better..”, and so on. The disappointment and self-deprecation cycle continues to spin out of control as you add to the emotional upheaval, creating even more suffering.
Option 2: Actively choose to let go of the bitterness that keeps you trapped in a cycle of suffering and move forward with your life.
Instead of being attached to your painful past, radical acceptance encourages the idea of ‘non-attachment’ in which you can observe your thoughts and feelings as they come, but avoid latching onto them as your reality.
Why Is This So Challenging?
Be honest, do you find yourself saying things like “this is not fair”, “why is this happening to me?”, “what did I do to deserve this”, or “I can never catch a break”?
If you do, you’re not alone! There’s a reason radical acceptance does not always come naturally to us. For most people, it’s more challenging to accept difficult or unfair situations in life because it feels as though accepting equals agreeing.
Applying radical acceptance does not mean you are giving up or that you approve of the situation. It means that you are actively choosing to take a more compassionate approach to your situation and emotions in an effort to reduce suffering.
Radical acceptance is the conscious effort to remove judgement from the situation. By accepting your reality for what it is. There’s no need to be complacent or approving of the situation. Rather choose to keep yourself from getting caught up in the emotional reaction to this new reality.
Let’s face it, radical acceptance is not something that comes naturally to many of us. With practice, you can learn the tools necessary to enable you to engage in radical acceptance to live a happier, more fulfilling life.
Here are 5 exercises you can use to improve your radical acceptance skills:
Avoiding or suppressing emotions can create even greater physical stress or mental turmoil in the long run. Some common mental health concerns that may arise include anxiety, depression, or even addiction.
When you experience a loss of control in your current situation, deep breathing exercises can help you relax your thoughts. This can also allow you to attend to your emotions with a calmer mindset.
Examples of deep breathing exercises include:
- Box breathing — Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat.
- Belly breathing — Place one hand on your lower belly and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath and feel your belly rise as your push air down into your lungs. Make sure you are keeping your chest still throughout.
- 4-7-8 breathing — Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, repeat.
- Alternate nostril breathing — Close your right nostril to inhale through your left nostril. Next, close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril
When you feel a loss of control over your life, it can be helpful to evaluate the things that are within your control, and the things that are outside of your control. Having this type of perspective may help you free yourself from the cycle of obsessing over every detail of your life to live with greater radical acceptance.
Positive self-talk is the optimistic voice in your head that encourages you to look on the bright side. Research has found that people who engage in more positive self-talk have an improved ability to cope with hardships or challenges while protecting themselves from the effects of stress and anxiety.
Examples of positive self-talk include:
- “Even though it wasn’t the outcome I wished for, I learned a lot about myself”
- “I might still have a ways to go, but I am proud of how far I have come”
- “I am grateful for the opportunities I have in my life”
- “Tomorrow is a new day, I look forward to what’s in store for me”
Coping statements replace the thoughts that lead us to stress or anxiety with thoughts that are more realistic and helpful. By repeating rational coping statements, we can rewire our brains to believe this as our reality.
Examples of coping statements include:
- “I can only control the present moment”
- “I can’t change the things that have happened to me in the past”
- “I am able to accept my life the way it is now”
- “No matter what, I will get through these difficult times”
Mindfulness is a beneficial practice that helps us become more aware and engaged with the present moment. By deepening our awareness of our experiences, including our many thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, mindfulness allows us to live life with greater ease, clarity, and kindness.
Examples of mindfulness practices include meditation, body scanning exercises, mindful movements (i.e. yoga), and deep breathing.
Radical acceptance comes from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which was originally invented by Marsha lineman, a well-known psychologist in the 1980s. DBT was developed as a form of suicide prevention for those living with mental illnesses including Borderline Personality Disorder.
Dialectical means two seemingly opposite things can actually be true at the same time. For example, you can both love and hate someone at the same time. For this reason, DBT is used to help people engage with radical acceptance as a guide to help us stop fighting reality, minimize impulsive thoughts or destructive behaviours, and let go of the bitterness that creates the cycle of suffering.
Everyone can benefit from learning the skill of radical acceptance. Allow these exercises to transform your negative thought patterns. Choose to escape from the cycle of suffering, and live life to the fullest!
If you’re interested in learning how to master emotional regulation through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, connect with us today! We look forward to hearing from you.
Written by Julie Stevenson BSW, MSW, RSW